Monday, October 22, 2012

Set My Face

It occurred to me today that my mom and dad are no longer on this planet. No matter how far I travel, there is no way of getting to the place where they are, save one.

Of course, it makes me miss them. My parents have come to mind often lately: looking through a little book of stories my aunt wrote for my mom's 50th birthday; wondering what my dad would say about the current housing market; seeing my mom's calendar on our wall and knowing that within those pages there is a day when she left us.

But I am also learning to number my days better on this planet. Not only the Scrooge's in the world should listen to the warning of the Ghost of Christmas Past: "They sought to intervene for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever." This is it - our one shot at making a difference in a fallen world. One day we will leave this planet and not return until its transformation into "a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."

Is it just me, or does our whole western society engage in avoidance behavior around the topic of our mortality? There have been eras and places in the world where death has been a familiar companion, readily talked about and mitigated by traditional rites and long-established ceremony. Here, we save death for the TV screen and newsreel, as far removed from our personal experience as possible. Death only happens to other people. When it touches us personally, it is as much of a surprise as if we made it on the TV screen ourselves.

Surely that attitude is not appropriate for the follower of Jesus. I see him walking with his disciples toward City, and his disciples cannot get his attention. Luke tells us, "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." Isaiah predicted this attitude, that he would confront death resolutely:

I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.
But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

What in life matters to me so much that I cannot be distracted from this one purpose, though it takes me toward the completion of my days on earth? The writer of Hebrews, after enumerating many saints whose faith meant death, says, "And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Toward what have I set my face?

The sentence stares at me, and though I attempt to improve its grammar I cannot escape its grip. This evening I told the students that I have a hard time reading what they really care about. That I want them to care about something that lines up with what God cares about. Pretty bold, when I have a hard time reading what I care about, really care about.

So I leave you with the question. Please tell me what you are planning/dreaming/doing with your one shot at life on Planet Earth. Where your face is set. Feel free to comment below.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Waiting Is Sweet

This morning I woke up and the house was full of wonderful young adults. God is good.

There was a time when I thought that this would never happen again, especially when people asked in kind tones if I was going to retire. I wondered too if my time was done and I was out to pasture - a horse old and achy before its time. I was broken, body and soul, and did not think I had the heart or hope to recover.

"Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you" (Isaiah 46:3, 4 NIV).

This morning the small sounds of movement started at 7:00 am. I am not cruel - I just told them that we need to have breakfast eaten and cleaned up by the time for prayer and worship at 8:30. Someone had their radio on just before 7:00, and will need a gentle reminder about earbuds. We have ahead of us a day of challenge course and rappelling down a 210 foot cliff, followed by a dip in the lake. But I most look forward to chilling with these guys this evening in this enormous house overlooking the Cowichan Valley far below.

He made me, and he will carry me. He shaped and formed me, so it is his responsibility to get me from Point A to Point B, birth to grave. He is not done with me, and when he is I will know it, because I will be falling at his feet.

It is an interesting combination of people - average age 19.75, and most already know one another and each other's friends. Twelve would have been great, but eight students is a nice number and I am content. I wonder what Jesus will accomplish with them in this year, and shiver a bit in anticipation.

Can I encourage you today who are waiting on God for something: the waiting - the expectation and hope - make the thing you are waiting for all the sweeter, and make you all the more ready to receive it.

"Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:14 NIV).

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Am Done With Stuff

For the past fourteen months, the majority of our stuff has been in storage. Furniture, tools, kitchenware, books, sports equipment and most of our clothing are in a 10 X 10 X 20 foot space that costs us almost as much to rent as our first home.

I don’t miss it. In fact, I am embarrassed about it.

When I visit it occasionally to pick something up or drop something off, I always hope that someone came in the night and stole it all. I don’t know why anyone would do that, but that is where my mind goes.

For the past fourteen months we have worn the same two suitcases of clothes and dragged around a small box of books and odds and ends and a Rubbermaid of food. I think I would like to get rid of the small box, and the Rubbermaid is currently half full.

I am done with stuff.

Of course, right now we are in a situation where our accommodation and meals are provided. We expect that things will change this fall, not back to “normal” because we will be doing life in a large house with a dozen or so young adults, which may be crazy. The house will need to be full of stuff, I guess, and I wonder if we will still feel the same way about it. Here is what happened this year:

1. We became very appreciative of the stuff we have. It’s like it has to last forever, or at least until we get back from the most recent adventure, so we make sure it is put away, well-cleaned, kept track of. It is a little upsetting to lose things, and we usually pray hard to find them again.

2. We downsized at every opportunity. When you are in motion, everything has to come with you, so you regularly look it over and if it isn’t necessary, it goes. We recycled, gave it away or if we had to, chucked it. It felt as good as crossing something off our to-do list.

3. We wore it out and made it do. It’s the old Amish proverb, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Sometimes our experience reminded me of what God pointed out to the Israelites, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet” (Deuteronomy 29:5). As I write I am wearing sandals that I must have bought four years ago. I took them through two summers in a row in both hemispheres and they don’t even smell bad.

4. We looked and said no. We are not very good tourists, but we did sometimes end up in those places with curious things for sale. We appreciated them and were often tempted, but in the end we said no. Sarah brought back a few clothes from New Zealand; I have a hat she bought for me and some cool jade stones I found on the beach.

5. We always had enough to be generous. That was King David’s lifelong observation: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.” Actually, our children are more generous than we are.

6. We enjoyed the simplicity. It has been fun to live in a place with no electricity, and you may have heard how I feel above my “cannute” across the water to work. Our dog Barkley is spoiled to death by the lake outside his front door and we find every opportunity to sit by the water. Sure, it is temporary but it is such a gift.

A few years ago a Vancouver couple, troubled by the stuff that cluttered up their lives, took on an interesting project: “For one year we will not buy any material goods. We will buy only consumables, and everything we buy must come in recyclable or compostable packaging” (see The Clean Bin Project). They weren’t even hippies.

I’m not sure if I am ready for that kind of commitment, but I like the spirit of it. I hope we will remain careful in our buying, simple in our living, open with what we have.

I invite you to join us.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Camps, Cannutes and Flying Leaps

First: Where did my novel go, you may ask? After a couple of months of posting it here one chapter at a time, it has disappeared and will resurface in some format in the coming months. If you were reading it and just didn’t finish in time, comment below and I may have mercy. My plan is to attempt to get it published (realizing that the chances are about the same as winning the lottery), and failing that, to publish it myself.

Second: What are we up to now, you may wonder? We wonder too how this will all turn out, but for now we are volunteering at Camp Imadene, to which I “cannute” each morning (that is commuting by canoe) from our little cabin in the woods across the lake.

We wake up, sit up and see calm water through the trees and eagles in the sky. Barkley has learned to take flying leaps into the water off our dock, so we are all quite happy.

What I am doing at Camp Imadene is preparing and developing a discipleship program for young adults that will run from September through April. Sound a little familiar? The Auxano program will have some elements like Kaléo, but is not connected to a Bible college and focuses on biblical training and service. That fits the 86-year tradition of Imadene very well, as the word of God is central here and this ministry produces some of the most amazing servants of God I have ever met.

As I get to know this camp (I will be a Dean this week, the equivalent of a Head Counselor), I find that there are great benefits in long-established loyalty. I am the newbie, and find myself drawn by the attitude that service without personal compensation for the benefit of all is good in itself, and needs no special recognition. I cannot say I am even a novice at it yet, but I am learning slowly to unchain my self-protectiveness and constraints. Any LIT here is better at it than I. Most have been at it from childhood.

Our hope for the fall is to have twelve students and two Resident Assistants (RA’s) living in town with us in a fairly new eight-bedroom house with four full bathrooms and three living rooms. Yes, it sounds crazy, but we are quite excited about the prospect. We have talked and dreamed of this for years. Students will spend most weekdays at the camp and will have (actually, make) most meals there, but will be around the House most evenings and weekends.

So much opportunity. We plan to start each weekday with an hour of prayer together, and I anticipate some significant evening conversations in various corners of the house throughout the year. Though classes are not accredited, there will be more actual class time than Kaléo, though very few assignments beyond some reading, and no grades. The service that comes so naturally to the Imadene crowd will fill up the rest of the time, with a few adventures thrown into the mix.

Like the rest of this year, things are unfolding slowly. Though much of the presentation and planning is done, we still have just one application so far and I am still trying to locate one more 22+ year old (female) to join me in leadership. Everyone here is confident that this will happen over the summer, and that is our hope. But again we are waiting on God.

So, if you know of someone who is 17-22 years of age and in need of “long obedience in the same direction,” send them our way! Or a young leader who should join us in this work. In the meantime we will watch and pray and see what God does next.

And enjoy the cannute.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Listening For God In All The Wrong Places

Some stories are worth retelling. Sarah and I were in a small New Zealand town, looking for a church on a rainy Sunday morning. We were told that there was only one, a tiny Anglican congregation where we found ourselves to be mere children in comparison to the rest.

When a small and elderly lady slowly took her seat in the narrow pew directly in front of us, I have to admit I was a little annoyed. There were plenty of seats - why couldn't she sit someplace else? And then the service began. It was High Anglican, very dry, with much standing and sitting and no warning. I found myself thinking about the mountain I wanted to climb the next day, wondering if today church was just a waste of time.

You have been there. The woman who has the seat next to you on a long flight and is glad to discover that you can't sleep either. The guest speaker who is as boring as a stack of gardening magazines. The philosophy book assigned to you that puts you to sleep again every second page.

The small elderly lady sat there with all eyes on her, oblivious to the unspoken fact that it was the time in the service when she was to read a prayer from the book. "Gladys," the minister intoned with her face all condescension, "time to..." Gladys stood up from the pew in front of us and began to read. I am sure that there were some in the room who were embarrassed with her prayer. She read slowly, with strong enunciation and melodrama - or so many people might take it. To me, she read with passion and devotion; it was like listening to Jesus pray.

Then it was time for everyone to get up and say, “Peace be with you." She stood, turned around, looked straight at me and said, “The best is yet to come!” I was rather astonished, because it was the very thing God has said to me all through the year, and I think I had forgotten. It was precisely what I needed to hear in that moment.

We talked with her for a while later – 87 years old, a widow for 12, and very much looking forward to heaven. “It is so good to be a believer, isn’t it?” she said. She took us across the street to the hall where everyone had gathered for tea. Several people wanted to talk with us, and I heard stories about that mountain I wanted to climb, stories I would not have heard anywhere else.

Have you ever stopped at a garage sale on a whim and found the very thing you have wanted for years, and for a song? Sighed as you clicked on yet another link your friend posted for you, and it turned out to change your whole day?

I think God likes to work like that.

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper" (1 Kings 19:11, 12 NIV).

And there was God.

Someone asked me the other day how to listen for the voice of God. I thought for a moment, and then told him that I am learning to listen for God in the unlikely places. The voice of the guy who is subbing for the great preacher I was hoping to hear. Random conversations that don't interest me at all. The places I would rather not be, with people I find hard to like. That is where God shows up.

If I am listening for him. Otherwise I might miss him altogether. In fact, these days when my boredom meter is reading, "This sucks!" I find myself watching for God like a camp counselor who gave his kids all the leftover water balloons.

You just know it's coming.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

Finlay Park to Cape Reinga

The four-hour prayer session at Taraunga HOP was very different than the morning before. Just two people gave leadership: a young woman led for the first half on the piano, singing her prayers and worship to God. It was quite beautiful, and many of her words were used of God to speak to my heart. I appreciated that her worship led us through some very specific and pertinent themes. The second half was led by a young man, who was very skillful on the guitar but his words were very general in nature, and I found his sampled guitar rhythms distracting after a short time. But we both still appreciated our time there, and wonder how to incorporate this idea into whatever ministry we next find ourselves.

We had an invitation from Quintin, who served at Qwanoes several years ago, to come and visit him at the camp where he has served for the past six years, Finlay Park Adventure Camp. We are so glad we did. On the way we passed through Matamata, and passed up the opportunity to visit the movie site of Hobbiton, for $66 per person. Quintin’s camp is nearby, and was quite enough for us. When we arrived he was still at work, getting ready for a weekend group, so we wandered around and got ourselves settled into the great little house he renovated on site.

When Quintin came home we caught up a bit, and then he made the suggestion that we go for a ski! He didn’t have to ask twice, and though I was a little nervous since I haven’t skied since I wrecked my shoulder, I was excited about the opportunity to get on the water. He has his own boat, a nice Mailbou built for skiers, though he has a wedge for the wakeboarders too. How did it go? Something like this…

So fun, and though it was a bit harder for me to get up, I was fine after that. Then I drove for Quintin, and though the last time I drove a ski boat goes much further back, that was fine too. I squeezed out one more ski before my energy was gone. We went back to his house, where Sarah and I made dinner while Quintin met his guests, and then we had a good couple of hours to chat and hear one another’s stories.

That night, he was taking a group on a glowworm tour and invited us along. This was not a cave tour but a boat tour up a narrow gorge. The stars were brilliant, the air warm, and we passed up a wide creek, under a bridge and into the gorge. The canyon walls were high above us and the stream narrow, so that we bumped the edges occasionally. For about half a kilometer the walls were just covered with the tiny but bright pinpricks of light that are glowworms. It was so beautiful. What I liked best was that the tiny glowworms and the massive stars above them looked just the same. What a wonderful world God has made!

The next morning we made a late start while Quintin worked with his group, and then had lunch together and caught up some more. God is opening doors and giving dreams to this young man, and he is coming to Canada in June for an indefinite time. It was great to hear, and I hope we can reconnect back at home. Then we were on the road again and on our way to Waihi Beach.

If you have been following this blog you might remember the family who hosted us and helped us get organized after we bought the van in Auckland. Mike, Helen and their 10-year-old son David had invited us to join them in February at their “bach” (cabin) at Waihi Beach on our way back up. Waihi Beach is a great little community on a fantastic surf beach, and their bach is WW2 army housing and very comfortable, just a hundred meters from the surf. The first thing we did when we arrived was to join them on a trip to the beach to dig for tuatuas (small clams) and go boogie-boarding. So fun. We found a whole bag of clams, and I discovered that though my shoulder won’t let me surf yet (can’t reach high enough to paddle), boogie-boarding is still really cool. And better suited to the smaller waves we would have over the next few days.

We stayed with them for four wonderful days! The weather was pretty mixed, but didn’t stop us from a pleasant flow of opportunities and just chilling at the bach: walks on the beach under amazing sunsets; a hike to another beach on slippery paths; a small church service with a great preacher; fantastic meals (Mike is a chef and Helen insists on good food and lots of it); more boogie-boarding with David and his cousin Luke; a trip to a huge open-pit gold mine and a series of historic tunnels; another trip to Cathedral Cove where the children enter Narnia in the Prince Caspian movie; a sidetrip to Hotwater Beach where you can dig your own hot tub right in the sand; Valentine’s dinner at a super roast beef buffet; games and long conversations about past memories and future dreams and church life and home life; more boogie-boarding; and many long walks on the beach. Mike and Helen and David blessed us over and over, and we so appreciate their friendship. It was very hard to leave.

But it was time to head north. The end of this journey is drawing near. We decided to make the trek back up to Kerikeri in just one day, which anyone living in Auckland just wouldn’t understand. But hey, we are simply not city people. We crawled through the City on State Highway 1, enjoyed the view and kept on going. Actually, we made one stop: we spent a pleasant hour at a white sand beach just south of Whangarei, soaking in the sun and the views of brilliant blue water.

We arrived in Kerikeri like we promised, in time for dinner, and spent the evening telling stories with John and Michelle, Josh and Ellie, Daniel and Lana, of all our adventures over these seven weeks that we have been gone. It is good to be with them again – it felt like coming home. So now we are catching up on correspondence, writing (finished the first draft of my novel!), photos, visits with friends, laundry and getting the van ready to sell, all before we leave for Canada on Friday. But I am still restless for adventure and beaches, I think. The day after we got back, I did a 10 km trek into a favourite beach from the last time we were here, and the next day we took the girls to another favourite surf beach where we went boogie-boarding. I was going back in the water for one more ride when I saw the dark shapes of two large stingrays in the waves, so with Steve Irwin in mind I went a little way down the beach to catch my last wave.

We decided on one last adventure, so on Sunday after pulling ourselves away from all the questions of friends at church, we left for Cape Reinga at the very top of New Zealand. We had a beautiful day to drive and decided to do most of our sightseeing on the way back, so we got up there by about 4:00 PM. I had forgotten how very beautiful it was up north. And so different from the other times we had visited in the winter. There was no wind, and it was warm and sunny, unlike the hurricane winds and chill we experienced before. This is where the blue Pacific Ocean meets the aqua-green Tasman Sea, and it was incredible to watch huge waves meet one another and burst straight up in the air. I wouldn’t want to take a boat through them! 

Sarah managed to walk all the way down to the lighthouse, though she paid for it the next day. It was nice to know that we are only 11,222 km from home, and that we will be making the journey soon.

We drove down to a campsite nearby, which was nearly full but we found a nice spot near the beach. Great waves – I was sorely tempted to go in but didn’t. Should have. Instead I walked down the beach and up a hill and took photos, then came back and made a fabulous beef stew – from scratch – which we enjoyed very much as we watched the waves. That small white dot on the far right is us.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find out until we went to bed that while we were making dinner, about 200 mosquitos (no exaggeration) had entered the van and hidden under the bed. As we tried to go to sleep, out they came a few at a time. At first we just squished them thinking there were only a few, but about 1:00 AM and a hundred kills later, I abandoned ship, grabbed the spare blanket and slept outside, leaving Sarah to the battle. Sounds mean, but somebody had to drive the next day. It goes without saying that we both slept badly.

So the next day, though it was still mostly sunny, we didn’t feel up to much. We slept as long as we could, hung out at the beach for a while, then returned to Cape Reinga. 

I walked down the craggy trail toward the long beach we had walked six years ago, and then we drove to the sand dunes, wondering of we dared to drive Ninety-Mile Beach in our little van (we didn’t), and instead found another beach of fine, pure white sand to have lunch. It was all we could do to visit a couple shops we enjoyed before, sustain ourselves with marvelous NZ ice cream, and head back home.

Home! Where is home? Well, we don’t really know yet. Kinda expected to by this point, and there are some opportunities possibly opening up. But God’s word to us is still to wait and expect great things from him before we attempt great things for him. I guess that is the next chapter. See you there.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Wellington to Mount Maunganui

Our ferry ride this time was grey, and I spent much less time on deck – I even watched a bit of each of the movies being played – Mr. Bean’s Holiday and Charlotte’s Web. The two most expensive movies I have ever watched! I think we are tired of sight-seeing. We went to Hannah’s house (she was home this time!) to find that the family would be out for the evening. They felt badly about it, but really it was nice just to be in a home and sit on couches again, after two weeks of camping.

The next day, Hannah was working until mid-afternoon, so we went into Wellington to do the tourist thing. We only made it to the Te Papa museum, but on the way the streets were filled with people dressed up in all kinds of costumes for The Sevens – a world rugby championship taking place in the city with seven players on each team playing two seven minute halfs. It seemed the thing to do to go as a group all dressed the same way, and some of them were pretty amazing. We didn’t do the thing to do. The museum was very good, though we saw only a quarter of it or so, just the natural science, which very appropriately focused on things like earthquakes and volcanoes. One of my favorites was a small house set up to simulate an earthquake, almost enough to knock you off your feet. During the one in Christchurch, people couldn’t even stand.

We spent the evening catching up with Hannah, then having dinner with the family and watching the rugby. Canada did quite well, getting to the quarter-finals for the cup, and I am curious now as to how far they got. New Zealand, of course, always beats everyone.

We decided the next day to continue north, aiming for the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. Hannah’s dad had recommended that I consider doing the Tongariro Crossing, which is supposed to be the best one-day “tramp” in New Zealand. Upon arrival, we checked at the info centre and the weather looked like it would improve the next day, and found that the shuttle bus left at 7:30 am. So we went to a small campsite and I got ready to hike while drizzle kept us mostly in the van. The next morning the drizzle was still going, so I decided to not go but wait to see what the weather would do. It also gave us the chance to go to church, which turned out to be a good thing.

There seemed to be only one church having a service that morning, a small Anglican one that slowly gathered a handful of friendly seniors. An elderly lady sat right in front of us, and I remember wondering why she would choose that spot when there were so many others. It was a very Anglican service, and at one point it was the little old lady’s role to read a rather long prayer. But she read it with such passion and conviction it was quite beautiful. One of the passages read was the end of Isaiah 40, about rising up with wings like eagles. I wondered what God was saying to me.

Then there was a time for everyone to get up and say, “Peace be with you” to one another. The little lady in front of us turned around, looked straight at me and said, “The best is yet to come!” I was rather astonished, because it was the very thing God has said to me all through the year, and I think I had forgotten. We talked with her for a while later – 87 years old, a widow for 12, and very much looking forward to heaven. “It is so good to be a believer, isn’t it?” she said.

Thinking about it later, I realized that God was reminding me about the “waiting” part of Isaiah 40 – “those who wait on the Lord.” Waiting is what I am doing right now, but it is not purposeless. Through it, God will renew my strength. It is intended that I not wait impatiently, or become pre-occupied with other things as I wait. It is waiting with anticipation, expectation. I think my anticipation has waned, like when someone says they are going to go off a jump or something and it is taking too long. I think my expectations are reduced, to the point that sometimes I feel I could just retire, or get a job selling insurance like I dreamed recently. God, fill me with anticipation, and may I dream big again!

Well, I am going to try the mountain again tomorrow, hoping that the weather will clear. Bus leaves at 7:00 am. Better get some sleep.

So this is tomorrow, and I have now done something that Sam and Frodo never did – I climbed to the top of Mount Doom. The shuttle dropped me and several others off at 7:30 AM, and I had in mind that if I was going to be sure of catching the last pick-up on the other side of the Tongariro Crossing at 5:00 PM, I would need to be at the Saddle at 9:00 AM and at the top of Mount Ngauruhoe at 10:30 AM, which I wasn’t sure was possible. A good hundred or so people were leaving the parking lot about the same time as me, but the numbers dwindled as each found their pace, and mine was pretty quick.

The first section is deceptively easy – wide trail, boardwalk, just a few rises, with good views of Mount Ruepehu. Then suddenly it climbs steeply up to the saddle between the two volcanoes, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. It was cold when I started, but I was getting warm by the time I reached the saddle – at 9:00 AM! I noticed that a few people were taking the side-trip up Ngauruhoe, which really is Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings movie, and I decided to go for it.

For those who have done the hike up Mount Albert-Edward in Strathcona Park, think about that last section up the steep slope to the top, multiply it by five or six, and make it steeper, and that was the climb up Ngauruhoe. No wonder Frodo had such trouble! Not only steep, but very unstable, as this mountain has blown its top several times in the past fifty years or so, and in places it was step up one, slide down two. About halfway up, there is a ridge that is better footing, but now you are dealing with very large rocks that move, so you have to be very careful. Many times you would hear people yelling “Rock!” above you and you watched until you were sure it wasn’t coming your way.

It got tough at the top (2287 meters or 7500 feet) with less oxygen and ridges that were not really the top at all. But suddenly there it was – a rim of about 3 meters wide, circling a crater about 200 meters across and at least that deep, with snow at the bottom. It was red and black and very scorched, and steam rose from the ground in various places. There are signs at the start of the trail telling you what to do if it starts erupting. I think there is little that one could do if they were standing where I was. I spent about an hour at the top, taking lots of photos and walking all the way around the rim. Pretty spectacular. For perspective, the tiny dots on the far rim are people.

The trip down was more hazardous that the one up, as it consisted of plunging straight down the very steep scree, like walking down the longest escalator you have ever seen. Usually it was quite manageable, because your feet sank so deep in the rocky soil, but occasionally the bones of the mountain were suddenly near the surface, and if you were moving too fast you found yourself sliding rapidly, as if on marbles on steep pavement. But I got to the bottom safely, found a place to sit and had my lunch (after emptying my boots of half the mountain).

I have to say, that was the best part of the Tongariro Crossing. The rest was cool though, with big, wide craters to walk through, vivid green lakes and vents of steam all over. I put my hand on the ground once, and it was hot. But the walk out was long, down a fairly easy slope but the trail meandered back and forth without losing much elevation so it took a long while. Just before 3:00 PM I reached a shelter that our driver said was two hours from the parking lot and that a sign said was 1.5 hours. I decided suddenly that I really wanted to catch the 4:00 PM shuttle, so off I went! And a few others with me. We reached the shuttle right at 4:00 PM, and it left a few minutes after we got there. Not that I saw nothing on the way down – good views of Lake Taupo and area, and a huge vent of steam where there are some hot springs.

I decided I really needed a shower, so we sprung for our most expensive campground so far ($38, or about $30 Canadian) and it was a wonderful one. We both had a shower that evening and another in the morning just because we could. Sarah had spent the day checking out the exhibits about volcanoes at the visitor centre and doing the walks she was able to manage. That evening we drove up Ruepehu (the tallest one at 2797 meters or 9200 feet, but not as cone-shaped) and watched the sun setting on Ngauruhoe and the surrounding area. Very tired feet, but a very good day.

We had some general idea of going to Lake Taupo and possibly on to Rotarua the next day. Lake Taupo is very beautiful, and made me wish we had a boat. We stopped on the shores for a while, which are lined with pebbles and rocks of pumice! It was kinda fun to throw rocks in the water and watch them float away from you. We enjoyed the view all morning, and then decided to head for a campground near Rotarua and see what thermal activity we could find on the way, as this is the Thermal Highway. That part was a bit disappointing, as all of the places have pretty steep entrance fees. So we saw what we could for free and went to the campsite, a nice one by a lake. It filled up quickly after we got there, and many vans came in and had to leave again. Wonderful to sit by the lake in the sun and just enjoy it. Wonderful not to drive any further. We are at 6400 km and still have a way to go!

That night I had an interesting dream. We plan to go to the International House of Prayer soon in Taraunga, and I dreamt that we were there, and a man was at the front leading a discussion. He asked someone to give him a word that they were given by God, so they could discuss it, and a young girl gave the word, “Leader.” It was very vivid, but as dreams go, suddenly I was the one at the front, and I took the word “leader” and began teaching for about twenty minutes from the Bible, focusing on calling others to become disciples of Christ. I woke up and remembered the dream clearly, and realized that this is what I want to do. Maybe not in Tauranga, but somewhere. I want to have the freedom to teach young adults in a setting like that. Interesting, because the day before I had asked God again what I am to be anticipating.

Next day we took things pretty easy, with a walk in an unusual city park in Rotarua – pools of boiling water steaming up in various spots, a massive museum building straight from the 30’s, bowling and croquet greens everywhere, and the constant smell of rotten eggs from all the thermal activity. Then we carried on to the coast and arrived at our campsite at noon, which proved to be next to a gorgeous surf beach on the east coast, where we sat and watched the waves (looking directly toward Canada) and the plume of smoke pouring out of White Island offshore, and walked and read all afternoon, plus the better part of the evening. I can’t figure out DOC sites though. The one last night didn’t even have running water and it was $16.20. This one was $12.00 and it had a hot shower! Go figure.

Today, we were up at 6:15 AM and away by 7:00, hoping to reach the IHOP in Tauranga by 8:00 AM. Nope, not for pancakes – the International House of Prayer. Danny had told us about it, and we arrived right at 8:00, not knowing what to expect. For the first two hours, a fellow who was one of Danny’s teachers at YWAM led in worship, which in this case meant that he sang and played guitar, very skillfully, and wove together songs of worship along with teaching and some instrumental, for two hours without stopping. It was amazing how God spoke to us both in that time, reaffirming words he has said before and taking us further.

Then a worship team took his place and led in intercessory prayer through mostly music and some spoken participation by others. Most of the prayer had to do with New Zealand and revival, and especially the Tauranga area, but there was also prayer for healing and other things, and it was good just to devote time to our own intercession. We spent the afternoon on the beach at Mount Maunganui – very famous NZ spot – and decided to stay and go back to IHOP tomorrow morning as well.

I feel anticipation growing as to what God has next for us. Wait on him with us. And enjoy the sunset over Tauranga Harbour.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Pancake Rocks to Picton

One of our favorite spots so far is the area around Pancake Rocks. Except for the pancakes, it is not so very different than the rest of the West Coast, but it has a campground we enjoy and a marvelous beach. With YWAM plans changed, we decided to return that way and spend a couple of nights there. As we passed by Pancake Rocks, we asked about the best time to see the blowhole in action, which was at high tide after 2:00 PM.

It was good to relax, good to walk the beach, and I spent a fair bit of time writing as there is power in the little kitchen area. I have written the ending to my novel and have just two sections to finish up, both of which require a little Internet research. But I am within about 1500 words of being done, plus all the adjusting and editing that will be necessary. My brother, who is also a writer (he has six books published, I believe), has told me that getting it published by a publishing company is pretty tough these days, and I would likely need an agent. We’ll see. If not, there are lots of other means these days, and I have some plans. If you want to read it, check back here sometime in the next few months and I will let you know how.

We spent a relaxing morning, not needing to go anywhere. Because the wind was strong from the southwest and the waves huge, the conditions were perfect for the blowhole, and we went there early. Enough wind to take your skin off, but we found a great spot out of the spray that was drenching most other people, and our raingear took care of the wind. At first there was only the occasional gusher, but around 2:00 the blowhole let loose a number of times, which was spectacular. We also enjoyed the “Chimney Pot” nearby, and a “Sudden Sound” that was like the earth breathing.

We took a drive after dinner and sat in the van with a good view of the setting sun and the beach. Maybe you are getting tired of my sunset shots, but this one is pretty good. 

Imagine, God is painting scenes like this, not once a day but 24 hours a day, seven days a week, somewhere in the world. Obviously he likes sunsets too.

We were a little uncertain where to go the next day. We have a few more days than we really need for getting to the ferry on time. So we set off for Westport for gas and groceries, stopping at Cape Foulwind on the way. Maybe we have seen too much, because in spite of its wild name we found it quite tame, though the baby seals were cute. Unfortunately too far away for my zoom lens. 

Then we headed east through the Buller Gorge (think Lord of the Rings) and camped in a big grassy field with misty mountains all around. There is a wall that they built here right over the fault line, to see if it would move. It hasn’t, in 47 years, so they are expecting a Big One like we are on the West Coast of Canada. Still, I was taking a nap in the van and was awakened by a gentle swaying that lasted about a minute. Probably not the fault line we were sitting on, but poor Christchurch again, a hundred km away.

It was Sunday morning, and we set off to see if we could find a church in Hanmer Springs, another tourist destination nearby. We came in a little late to a Presbyterian service (the equivalent of a typical Baptist service in Canada, which was friendly and nice but I think we have enjoyed the slightly-more-alive services at the Baptist and New Life churches here. We also have found that we are not much interested in tourist destinations. A pretty area, but the main attraction is the hot springs, at $18 a person. We stopped at one the day before just to look, and if I had gone for any of them it would be that one – a Japanese one with rock pools and gardens, for $19. In any case, Sarah was not up to going in, and I didn’t feel like going by myself at that price.

So we carried on that afternoon, through mountains and hills and twisty roads and over blue rivers, arriving at Kaikoura on the east coast. We felt it was time for showers and the chance to make dinner out of the misty rain, so we found a private campsite, a little more than we wanted to pay but clean and on a nice beach. After dinner and dishes, we pulled out the computer and watched a movie for the first time in ages, Letters to Juliet, and then went to bed with the roar of surf on one side of us and the occasional roar of the highway on the other.

We really didn’t have far to go the next day, so we took our time, and I watched surfers as I ate breakfast, wishing I was one of them. The stretch of highway to the south of us looked interesting, so we took it, even though it was the opposite way to where we needed to go. So worth it – rocky headlands with very narrow tunnels to go through, rocks with seals on them everywhere. It was a good warm-up to the highway we eventually took north, which was more of the same. We stopped for lunch and I went to take a photo of a seal on a rock, and found as I walked through the grass that there were seals everywhere, who sleepily made sounds at me as I passed.

Our destination was another DOC site on a beach near Cape Campbell. All the Kiwi’s were as usual all stacked together in one section near the washrooms, so we camped down a ways where we had the view to ourselves. I went for a hike, finding a good view of the big lighthouse at the Cape, and when I came back there was another van parked a little way from us. The few sentences we heard and the fact that they too wanted a more secluded spot made us think that they might be Canadians, so after dinner and walk we introduced ourselves. Canadians. From the West Coast. Vancouver Island. Cobble Hill.

They are here for almost the same time frame as us, but they explored the North Island first. We had a good talk, sharing favorite spots we had seen and best campground locations. We found out that our kids are about the same age and probably went to school together. And we exchanged addresses and phone numbers for when we get back. Very cool. As we talked, the color came into the sky and we could see bits of the North Island in the distance.

We had a lazy morning, then debated back and forth whether we should stay there another night or move on a little closer to Picton. In the end we decided to go, but it may have better to stay. First, we stopped at the McDonald’s in Blenheim to check email and stuff (the ONLY reason we ever go to McDonald’s!), and I managed to do something that only happens to other people: overwrite a file with an older version and delete three days worth of writing and editing on my novel. It was hard to take, but I have a sense that it was used as discipline from God and that it will be okay. But I know there are bits of the book that will simply never be the same.

We arrived at our next campsite, and found that it didn’t really compare with the last one. I think we are getting very picky about our campsites, because this really was nice – beautiful calm beach and cool places to explore – but we couldn’t park with a beach view. Anyway, we ended up liking it after a while, and in the morning Sarah even managed a longer walk out on some rocks to a rock arch, which she really enjoyed. Sheesh, we are spoiled!

Then we drove to Picton, found a campground with showers (yeah!) and a used book store with decent books and not-crazy prices. Got a one-volume version of Lord of the Rings that should last me until Canada. Our last day on the South Island – hard to believe!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dunedin to the West Coast

We have found it so good, after a week or so of camping, to spend a bit of time in a home. And it always seems to happen on a rainy day, just when it is hard to imagine camping out another night. Being with our friends Brian and Helen was just what we needed. He runs the dorm (called a hostel here) for the Otego Boys School, she teaches at the university, and they put us up in the suite that parents use when they come to visit. Right next door were a couple of old CIT’s of mine, Scott and Chelsea, now married eight years and taking the Canadian winter to work for Brian for a New Zealand summer. Pretty good deal.

We did lots of just hanging out together, which meant eating pretty much non-stop. It was wonderful to see a glimpse of their life here, and to get to know Brian and Helen’s little girl Maya. Sarah and I took a morning to explore the Octagon, Dunedin’s town square, including a cathedral, an art gallery and a lamb burger and salad at a bistro. We went to Brian and Helen’s church and met many people, and they took us out to Otago Peninsula to watch the albatrosses, one of the few places in the world you can do that since these massive birds rarely come to land and spend most of their lives gliding over the sea. Danny met the Bishop of Otago during YWAM; we got an invitation from them to come for coffee, and found them to be kindred spirits. We were very glad for the company of all these precious people, and for the chance to regroup a bit before camping again. It was hard to go.

From here we drove into the Catlins, a district of beaches and hills that would take us to the southernmost parts of mainland New Zealand. After a few stops, we made for a DOC campsite someone had told us about. Spectacular surf beach with tall white cliffs on one end, a typical feature of the Catlins area. While we were setting up, I saw something moving on the beach. Binoculars confirmed that they were fur seals, mom and pup. I saw people walking fairly close to them and discovered that the NZ standard is no closer than 10 metres. So I got some pretty cool shots.

The next morning we continued south, through strong westerly winds. The high twisty road at one point revealed a long, sweeping beach; we found a way down to it and had lunch there. Our entertainment was a young family playing cricket, which looked very fun though I still have no idea what the game is about. Beaches are well used here. While they were playing, trucks drove by on the beach, people fished and gathered clams. I think we were the only ones just sitting in our chairs, like a couple of senior citizens. No comments on that one, thanks!

We took the back roads off this back road, often finding ourselves on gravel. At one point we found ourselves at the turnoff to Slope Point, which had not been in our plans, but once within six kilometers we couldn’t resist visiting the southernmost point of New Zealand (except for several small islands). We had been told it was simply a path through a farmer’s field, which is exactly what it was. But it was cool to stand there and know that there was nothing but water between us and the Antarctic. Still no penguins, though there are signs about them everywhere.

We had hoped to connect with a friend, Ben, in Invercargill, but discovered he was living in Auckland. So we simply stopped for groceries there and watched a few old buildings and churches go by. There was a window of good weather ahead of us, so we were a little anxious to get closer to Milford Sound. So we kept driving on this long driving day, and had to be content with a small, crowded but free campsite by a river just outside Te Anau.

Our plan the next day was to get as close to Milford Sound as we could, then do the cruise down the fiord the next day. But as we drew closer the day opened up into blue skies, and we decided that we should push through to the Sound that day. The mountains grew taller around us, with beautiful dry grassy plains between them, and then suddenly the valley dropped below us and we began to wind our way down. We spotted the entrance to a campsite Scott and Chelsea told us about, and we checked in so we would have a place to go at the end of the day, then carried on.

Soon we were traveling in the kinds of places I have only hiked in before, with rock faces high above us on either side ribboned with waterfalls. And then the valley ended at a rock face with a hole in it. Scariest tunnel ever. It has stoplights, because it only has room for one-way traffic, especially with all the tourist buses heading for the Sound. When you enter, it feels like your headlights are not even on, it is so dark. It is simply rough-cut out of the rock, a semi-circle that you need to stay in the middle of, lest you hit the ceiling on the sides. And it is a steep slope downhill, and water drips from the roof. It seems to go on forever because you can’t see the light at the other end until you are nearly there. Scott and Chelsea said they did it with fog in the tunnel, and it was the most frightening thing they have ever done.

When you get to the other end, you come out on a rock face that drops vertically below you on one side, and then you begin a series of hairpins that takes you to the valley far below. A most remarkable road. And then you arrive at the Sound.

Probably the picture you have in mind about New Zealand is a series of absurdly exaggerated peaks rising out of still waters that reflect them perfectly. It is no exaggeration, and the only difference for us was that it was too windy for still water reflections. We booked a time for our cruise and had our lunch with the view. After we booked, we discovered that there are many more options for a cruise than first meets the eye. But afterward we felt it was worth the price.

I am sure there are fiords in BC that match this or even beat Milford Sound, but they are sure not as accessible to the general public as this. We just couldn’t stop looking: peaks, waterfalls, rock faces, green-blue water, seals and birds, all combined into a feast for the eyes.

By the time our cruise returned, it was after 6:00 and we needed to get back to our campsite. But the sun was still bright and the mountains on the trip back so beautiful, we had to stop often. When we arrived at the tunnel, we discovered that the traffic lights only operate until 6:00 PM! At first, I wasn’t sure what to do, and then I just plunged up into the abyss. Again, headlights were useless, barely enough to see that, yes, we were still more or less in the middle of the road.

And then I saw headlights coming toward us! Wow, would there be enough room to get by? There was, though only because it was another small van like ours. I guess that is why the buses don’t travel after six. On the other side of the tunnel, we stopped and caught our breath, plus a few more photos of the world on the other side.

Once back at the campsite, we decided to stay another day, which promised to be a wet one, so we were grateful to have such a beautiful day for our cruise. Mind you, Danny did it in the pouring rain, and he said that the 500+ consequent waterfalls were amazing. So now our family has photos of the Sound in the rain and in the sun. We could not have asked for a better place to spend a rainy day. I attempted a hike up one of the valleys in the morning and got soaked. But the campsite was quiet, with very few people around, and it had a warm and comfortable kitchen/lounge. We sat in soft chairs in front of the fireplace all afternoon, dried out and rested from too much sensory stimulation.

The goal for the next day was Queenstown. I had thoughts of Banff or Whistler and was not really looking forward to the bustle. There was bustle, but we both really liked the Queenstown area. We thought it might be hard to find a campsite, but the nearest DOC site was a massive delta with plenty of room, and gorgeous scenery all around. The lakes here are most impressive colour – a lighter blue than most in the Canadian Rockies. We decided to spend another day exploring.

The next morning, we decided to take the gondola up the mountain next to the town. It proved to be higher than it first looked, taking you nearly vertically up to great views of the town and the lake stretching away in two directions. I settled Sarah with a herbal tea in the café, and determined to hike higher. Danny hiked from here right to the top of a fairly high mountain, a jaunt that the sign said was a five hour return. I didn’t want to leave Sarah that long, but I still wanted more than what the observation deck offered. So I started up the trail toward the mountain, all the time eying a ridge up to my right that I thought must afford some good views. After an hour or so, the trail finally climbed the ridge and I saw a faint trail angling back along it, while the mountain trail carried on ahead. I took the ridge trail. Wow. At first I though I would only go to the first good view. But the trail continued and at one point I could see that it carried on far ahead of me, back toward and far above the top of the gondola. So I carried on. There were a few sketchy parts, made especially tricky by the wind, but I stayed careful and picked my way along until the world just dropped away below me.

I arrived back at the gondola just about the time Sarah was starting to wonder about me. We decided to buy lunch up there: $12.99 for a marvelous pesto penne, which sounds like a lot until you remove the tax, tip (they don’t tip here) and exchange, making it about $7.50 in Canada. And the view was worth much more. We descended the gondola, and discovered we had left our lights on! A friendly maintenance man got us going again. We stopped to visit Queenstown park, which Danny said was full of roses.

We decided to stay the next night at another campsite by a small lake. It was a long drive in on a gravel road and was pretty, but I think I preferred the one the night before. The next day was Sunday, and we had decided to try to get to the service at New Life Church (recommended by a fellow at YWAM) in Wanaka, another tourist town 100 km away. We didn’t know what time it started, so we left early and hoped to get there in time. There was a shorter route, but it looked very high and on our map part of it was gravel, so we opted for the longer route. We pulled into town at about 20 minutes to 10:00, stopped at the info place by the beautiful lake, and found out that it started at 10:00 and was two blocks away.

We very quickly felt comfortable there, with the usual NZ warmth plus the connection of Jesus. The pastor’s wife came and chatted for a while, along with a few others. When the service started, a couple and their son sat beside us. It was wonderful to see the participation of everyone in the service, the freedom to speak up or pray or even sing. The pastor spoke briefly to those of us going through transition, encouraging us to forget what was behind us and to look forward to the new time God has ahead for us.

After the service, we started chatting with the couple beside us, John and Louise, who offered lots of suggestions on places we could visit, finishing up with an invitation to park our van in their yard for the night if we liked. We got their cell number, promising to text, and took in a few of the views while doing laundry and picking up groceries, and made our dinner by the lake, letting the family know we would be glad to park at their place that night.

They texted back to say they would be out for a while but would leave the back door open – come over and make ourselves at home. So we did, Their place was a bit out of town at yet another gorgeous lake, and we walked into their house hoping it really was the right one and that it wouldn’t be strangers facing arriving at the door, wondering who we are. It was nice to be in a home again. They arrived soon after, though John had to go into Wanaka to pick up their older son who worked at New World, the grocery store.

We started talking with Louise, and quickly discovered that the pastor’s word about transition was for all five of us sitting together that morning, not just us. Our stories connected at so many points, it was amazing. Louise told us that it was wonderful to hear about another couple going through the same kinds of things, especially the waiting and dealing with the moments of panic, and watching the grace of God at work. She was glad that there were other “weird” people in the eyes of the world, who could not understand transitions like ours. The next morning, the conversation continued with John, and it was very encouraging to wonder together what God had for us next.

They welcomed us to stay another night, and we told them we would let them know but would say farewell for now. They are people we could easily become friends with, and it was hard to go. They suggested that we take in the high road we had bypassed before and some of the sights on the other side, which we decided to do. The road winds gradually up through the mountains, and then you come to where the valley is now far below you, and you need to get there, winding and turning on India-like hairpins, but paved and at least twice as wide.

At the bottom is Arrowtown, an old gold-mining town and definite tourist trap. But we were quickly trapped anyway, and enjoyed looking at greenstone (jade) and gold nuggets for sale and lots of merino wool. Sarah really wanted to get me something, having missed a previous occasion for a present, and I found a wool hat I really liked. I hope I can get it all the way home without crushing it. Then it was all the way back up the mountain, down the other side, and – we decided – past our new friends’ home toward the west coast. We marveled at the blue, blue lakes, and camped in a beautiful place beside the north end of Lake Wanaka, where I finally managed to construct a small stone arch.

The next day broke bright and beautiful, not a cloud in the sky. For a long while, the road meandered between mountains increasing in height, then dropped down to the coast with the usual steep twists and turns. We thought it best to make for the glaciers while the sun shone, and soon were passing between surf on one side and towering white peaks on the other. But the mist was starting to obscure some of them, and by the time we arrived at Fox Glacier, the sun came through only intermittently.

There are two glaciers that wind down almost to the coast, and are easily accessible, this one and the Franz Joseph glacier. We took them both in and were duly impressed, but pretty tired and so we hoped that we could try at least one of them again the next day. It was hard to find a nice camping spot along the highway, so I peeked in the book and found a recommendation for a community site at Okito, a beach town that was once the site of movie shoot. Beautiful, and Sarah was consoled about the windy drive because the campground had showers. I went for a very long walk down the beach, finding two sleepy fur seals and my first greenstone. 

The next morning was cloudy, but we decided to go with the plan and return to the Franz Joseph Glacier. As we approached, we saw sun poking through near to the mountains, and I took the hike up the valley to the nose of the glacier.

They do guided treks right on the glacier, which would have been fun if not so expensive. I decided to park myself in a spot that would have a good view of the glacier if those darn clouds would just make way for the sun that was trying to break through. God told me to be patient, and I told him that I am getting better at waiting, and that proved worthwhile. The clouds parted, and I could see gigantic spires of ice at the top of the glacier. Better with binoculars, but not bad with the zoom lens on the camera.

That night we decided to make do with a large, open DOC campsite by a less pretty lake, but it was within walking distance of the beach and that evening that’s what I did. It was gorgeous and lonely and big breakers rolled up the beach. And I found more greenstone, which made me happy.

The next day was decision day. We needed to hear from Julie at YWAM about our suggestion regarding a visit there for a couple of days, hoping to take in a session or two with the new students. But when I checked at an Internet station, the message was that she was away for the week and students would not be arriving for a while yet. Disappointing, but we are learning to accept disappointment. What God closes no one can open, and what he opens no one can close (Revelation 3, letter to Philadephia).

We decided to continue north, so that we would retrace a piece of coastline we had really enjoyed, and stay at one of our favorite campgrounds, where I am right now catching up on this blog in a nice kitchen/lounge as it dumps rain outside. Not that I can post it yet – no Internet here! Maybe tomorrow. Before coming up here, we explored a bit of Hokitika, a centre for jade or greenstone carving, and found ourselves fascinated with the stuff, though it is found in British Columbia too. I really wanted to find some good pieces. We stopped for lunch at a beach just to the north, and at a place where a small steam cut across the beach I found some great specimens of New Zealand greenstone. I hope I can polish them up when I get home.

With the change in plans, we suddenly have some extra days on the South Island. I wonder where they will take us. We will let you know soon.